Government of the country's biggest city devolved into a scramble for power among city councillors and a wounded mayor after a stunning court decision that ejected Rob Ford from office over donations to a high-school football team.
Calling himself a "fighter," Mr. Ford vowed to appeal Monday's ruling and run again as soon as he can. But that could not stop an unofficial campaign to replace him – whether through appointment or a by-election – from springing up in the chaos at city hall.
Mr. Ford's staunchest allies suggested council appoint a caretaker, possibly Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who could fulfill Mr. Ford's fiscally conservative mandate if the mayor is barred from running again until 2014. The mayor's left-leaning opponents, who have repeatedly blocked and overturned the mayor's agenda, are tilting toward a by-election.
"Various councillors are trying to curry the favour and support of their colleagues. You are seeing people who have been very loyal to one side or the other all of a sudden becoming the most centrist diplomats," Councillor Josh Matlow said. "The ship is sinking and the rats are jumping."
But a longtime ally of the Mayor, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, said Tuesday he would not support a by-election if Mr. Ford must leave office, calling it a waste of taxpayer money. Instead he called for a caretaker candidate, specifying that the person would have to be ideologically aligned with Mr. Ford and pledge not to run in the next election.
In an appearance on CP24, Mr. Mammoliti refused to rule out running for the position himself, calling that a decision for another day. He said that City Hall is "in crisis mode" and that councillors have to put aside partisan differences and reassure the business community.
"Right now my gloves are on," said the famously pugnacious politician. "We've got hundreds of millions of dollars of investments at stake. We have to put people at ease."
Although Mr. Justice Charles Hackland's decision is the most serious threat yet to Mr. Ford's improbable political career, the ruling is also the latest in a long line of setbacks, missteps or gaffes – many involving football – that have cost the mayor support in the political and public arenas.
Unlike the controversies that have forced the mayors of Montreal and Laval, Que., out of their jobs, this one has nothing to do with corruption, the judge made clear in his ruling.
Judge Hackland found that Mr. Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act on Feb. 7, 2012, by speaking to and voting on an item that freed him from personally reimbursing $3,150 in improper donations to his football charity.
"In my opinion, the respondent's actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to willful blindness," the judge wrote.
The outcome shocked Mr. Ford, who was the first to arrive at the offices of his lawyer and veteran litigator Alan Lenczner before 10 a.m. Monday, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
As the mayor sat in a small conference room overlooking University Avenue, waiting for his brother, Doug, Mr. Lenczner walked in to deliver the news that neither of them had expected: Judge Hackland had given the mayor 14 days to vacate his post.
When Doug Ford arrived several minutes later, he was equally shocked, the sources said.
The brothers huddled with the legal team for a few hours to review their options, agreeing at the end of the session that they would appeal the decision.
Mr. Ford then made his way to City Hall, where he gave two chaotic scrums before a surreal 1 p.m. press conference to launch the mayor's annual toy drive.
Mr. Ford finished his work day on the football field, catching the last 45 minutes of the final practice of the season for his Don Bosco Eagles, who play in the Metro Bowl championship at Rogers Centre Tuesday at 8 p.m. Council is meeting, but the mayor plans to leave early to coach, his press secretary confirmed.
Doug Ford encouraged the mayor's fans to join his brother at the game.
"You know what I'm going to ask the people of Toronto?" Doug Ford said. "You want to support Rob? Come to the Rogers Centre. Come at 8 o'clock [Tuesday] night because this is about giving back to the kids."
It is not clear when Toronto's voters will have the opportunity to render their own verdict on Mr. Ford.
The judge did not impose on Mr. Ford "any further disqualification from holding office beyond the current term," which some legal experts are interpreting as a go-ahead for Mr. Ford to run again in the 2014 general election, but not in a by-election that could be called before then.
But Mr. Lenczner, the mayor's lawyer, believes Mr. Ford could contest a by-election right away.
"The judge isn't doing anything more than vacating the office. So if [the city] decides to hold an election, Mr. Ford can run," he said in an interview. "If he did nothing, he could run in an election after 14 days."
Council could ask the city solicitor to seek a clarification on the matter at this week's council meeting.
- With a report from Michael Moore